Feeding our children through the years

In an era where nutrition is becoming much more of a focus and rates of obesity, diabetes and cancer are increasing at exponential rates, we as parents are under huge amounts of pressure to get feeding-our-children right. It is our responsibility to help our children develop good eating habits and a positive relationship with food. We need them to learn to love food and the social importance it carries, but also understand the necessity of balance, portion control and healthy choices. As parents, we can guide our children from a very young age and thus prevent them from becoming a statistic.

A solid start…
The second six months of life is a roller-coaster of new flavours and textures for your child. It is a messy but exciting and fun time. This is a window of opportunity when your child is open to new foods. Be bold! Offer as much variety as you can, the more flavours and textures your child is exposed to the better during this time. The weaning period will be the foundation to eating going forward. If at first your child appears to dislike a certain food, persevere and still offer it regularly, it can take many exposures to a food before it is accepted.

Toddling on…
Although the quantity of food your child eats may decrease after the first year of life; the quality of their diet is still very important.  The toddler years are a wonderful time where our children are learning rapidly and becoming more and more independent. Asserting independence can lead to fussiness and food refusal but in most cases this is a normal phase of development and passes with time. It is the parents’ responsibility to ensure that a routine of meals and snacks is maintained and that the meals we offer are nutritious and correctly balanced. Hunger will always prevail! If your toddler refuses a meal, avoid filling them with milk, juice or unhealthy snacks; this will ensure a good appetite for the next meal and inevitably an empty plate. Be a good example; family meals where each person is dished every component of the meal and it is enjoyed together is a great way to motivate young children to eat well.

Eating through the school years…
As your child grows and learns they will make more and more choices for themselves. Correct choices are informed ones. We as parents still decide what we are going to cook or put into lunch boxes but our children ultimately decide what and how much they are going to eat. Educate your children and teach them the value of good nutrition, serve balanced meals with a variety of colourful and nutritious foods. Just because they are kids it doesn’t mean that they have to be given processed unrecognisable ‘food’ laden with salt and additives! Continue to encourage regular meals and healthy snacks, this will help meet the demands of school and sporting activities. Allow them to enjoy the treats but reserve these to have once or twice weekly in a controlled portion rather than every day. Moderation is key!

Food for thought…
Eating is a learned behaviour and we as parents are our children’s primary feeding educators. Teach your child the art of healthy eating and give them a priceless gift; the gift of health.

Written by Claire McHugh – BSc (Dietetics) RD – Specialist Paediatric Dietician

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